(OPE-L) Re: 1, 2, 3, how many imperialist powers?

From: gerald_a_levy (gerald_a_levy@MSN.COM)
Date: Fri May 30 2003 - 09:22:16 EDT

Michael E wrote on Wednesday, May 28:

> This and Allin's comment show that the concept and phenomenon of
> imperialism are by no means clear.

Allin's post in this thread concerned the meaning of empire and
imperial powers rather than imperialism and imperialist powers.

> Capitalist colonialism more or less dissolved after WW II.

What was the cause of the dissolution of colonialism?  Weren't
the de-colonial (national liberation) struggles within the colonies
a major --even decisive -- cause of that dissolution?

>To call what comes
> after, neo-colonialism seems to be a paucity of concept.

A better instance, I think, of paucity of concept is to claim that
calling 'what comes after' neo-colonialism is a paucity of concept
_without explaining why_.   At least Nkrumah and others who
used the term "neo-colonialism"  _explained why_ they were using
that expression.

> The "export of capital" to other countries cannot be any criterion for
> "imperialism", especially since most foreign investment is made among the
> rich capitalist countries investing in each other.

Yes, a high proportion of the investment by corporations from
imperialist nations is within other imperialist nations.  This in no way
undercuts Lenin's theory of imperialism, since it was a process that he
(and Hilferding, Luxemburg,  Bukharin, Preobrazhensky and others)
understood well.

> Lenin says straight out, "Cartels become one of the foundations of the
> whole of  economic life. Capitalism has been transformed into
> imperialism. Cartels come  to an agreement on the terms of sale,
> dates of payment, etc. They divide the  markets among themselves.
> They fix the quantity of goods to be produced. They
> fix prices. They divide the profits among the various enterprises, etc.
> ... > Monopoly! This is the last word in the 'latest phase of capitalist
> devlopment'"
> (Lenin, _Imperialism. The highest stage of capitalism_ in Selected Works
> Vol. 1 > Progress, Moscow 1970 pp.684, 690).
> This identification of imperialism with the tendency toward the formation
> of  large monopolies and cartels seem highly unsatisfactory.

I agree that the trend towards cartelization that Lenin highlighted has not
been a major trend in world markets for many decades.  So, to the extent
that there is this "identification", then I agree that it is no longer

OTOH, one can argue that there is a long-term trend -- a consequence of
the concentration and centralization of capital -- for markets to become
increasingly dominated by *oligopolies*.  Oligopolies are not (to use a
mainstream  economists' expression) 'pure monopolies' (and they are not,
typically,  cartel members),  but they do have 'monopoly power' (i.e. market
power resembling that of monopolies).

btw, I think that Lenin (and the others cited above) used the expression
'monopoly' more broadly than it is used today by mainstream economists.
I.e. for Lenin, and other Marxists writing at the same time or before, there
could be more than one monopoly in a market and rivalry could exist
among monopolies in the same market.  Thus, Lenin and many other
Marxists considered monopolies to be more like what was later called
oligopolies -- although the dynamic of product differentiation as a
competitive strategy was not highlighted by Lenin and others whereas
it became an essential, defining characteristic of  oligopolies within the
tradition of writers on that subject.

> Furthermore, in the meantime (since 1916), there has been a big
> move against the formation of capitalist cartels, trusts and monopolies
> overseen by the capitalist state and international organs have been set up
> for  the purpose of restricting monopoly practices.

Anti-trust policies within advanced capitalist nations are typically
directed at cartels and 'pure monopolies' (which are rare) rather than
oligopolies (which are common).

> Imperialism implies some sort of exploitation of foreign parts. If these
> foreign parts are not directly subjugated (i.e. through the medium of
> political  and ultimately military power), then the exploitation must
> amount to some kind  of unfair capitalist competition. That is, the
> countries in which capitals from
> rich, developed capitalist countries are invested must be at some kind of
> structual or 'essential' disadvantage in the capitalist competition.
> To claim simply that the investment of rich capitalist countries in poor
> countries is already imperialism because a foreign workforce is exploited
> presupposes that capitalist investment is exploitative in itself, i.e. it
> presupposes the orthodox LTV and its associated TSV.

One has to examine the transfer of surplus value internationally and
rent to more concretely make the connections and explain this process.
One also has to, relatedly, consider different national and regional
standards for SNLT including different standards for labor intensity
and the value of labour-power.  This study implies -- indeed requires
-- a comprehension of the history and dynamics of class struggle in
different nations and regions. The state, foreign trade  and the world
market and crises also have to be systematically comprehended.

One has to remember that Lenin's pamphlet was a self-described "popular"
work in which he explicitly recognized -- and called for -- the need for
more  research to  be done (he singled out Bukharin as one of those who
needed to investigate imperialism further).  So, in that sense _Imperialism_
was not  a very advanced  "theoretical" work (nor did it claim to be).
Rather, it was an attempt to comprehend what was in that time the "latest"
stage of capitalism.

Whether the "imperialism" that Lenin described is  (essentially) the
"imperialism" of today (or even, as you ask, whether there is imperialism
today) are serious questions that need to be grappled with.  There is indeed
a whole literature among Marxists that attempts to answer these questions,
e.g. Bill Warren's _Imperialism: Pioneer of Capitalism_ (Verso, 1980) and
critiques of Warren's book.

Sorry, but I don't have time for more now.

In solidarity, Jerry

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